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Martin Kranitz, MA.
The Couples Guide to a Fair Separation or Divorce
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Family Mediation - Estate Planning
Separation & Divorce | Elder Mediation | Estate Planning

As people age, they often accumulate assets (and junk) that they want to pass along to others who have been important to them in the past. Many times, the assets will be passed along to family members (although other individuals and organizations may also benefit from the largesse of the person with the estate). Often people with financial means will make decisions about how to disburse their assets without discussing their plans withthe recipient people or organizations. On the one hand, this is certainly the right of the person with the asset to disperse it in the manner of their choosing. On the other hand, while their goal may be to provide a benefit to the person (or organization) to whom they are making the bequest, the outcome may not be as positive as they wish it to be. Unfortunately, they are generally not around to make adjustments or amends.

“Thoughtfulness in disbursement goes beyond talking with an estate planner.”

Take for example a situation in which a business is passed along from a father to a son as a token of appreciation for all of the hard work that the son did in carrying on the business. On the surface, it seems a fair and reasonable bequest. If one looks below the surface, one might find that the son never really liked the business but stayed because it was “expected” of him. Now, as owner of the business he may be expected to maintain the business in his fathers/family’s memory, feeling the same pressure and dislike as before. An exploration in mediation might have uncovered some of his feelings, allowing other bequests to be made to demonstrate the appreciation for all his hard work. The business could be disposed of by sale or passed on to some other person who felt more strongly about maintaining the business.

What about the situation where a parent passes along the family house (or some other large asset) to the child who is doing less well financially. The assumption is the other child (who is doing quite well financially) does not need the financial boost. While that may be true from a financial standpoint, if the parent does not make an attempt to acknowledge both children, their love and support, then they take the risk not only of having the financially well off child have negative memories about the deceased parent, they also run the risk that the relationship between the two siblings may be negatively affected as well.

A third example would be one in which the estate is told to give a small nonprofit organization a bequest of $10,000. While the organization will, in all likelihood, appreciate such a donation, they might have had more use for the family vehicle. The cash donation may be difficult to turn into a vehicle because of organizational bylaws, whereas the donation of a car or van may be able to be used directly.

The above are but three examples of issues that can be explored and addressed through mediation. Not only are the practical, financial issues addressed during mediation, there is also an opportunity for the person with the estate to thank, in person, the people or organizations who have been helpful and supportive in their lifetimes. There is also the opportunity for the recipient people/organizations to thank the person who is making the bequest.